Coming soon after the mind blowing Roomscale Plus experiments I assumed mobile VR would be, to be polite, a pale imitation. However, being tetherless (albeit in 3DoF) was intriguing, and any excuse to try new technology is a good one.
Google’s Daydream launched with their new Pixel smartphones which ran a stripped down version of Android with VR support baked in and low persistence display panel with a SOC capable of rendering 2 x 60Hz. I headed to Google’s Daydream public demo hosted by a retail partner in London’s West End.
The increase in resolution and reduced screen door effect (compared to the Vive) were an immediate and pleasant surprise. The vivid colours and bright screen worked really well with a low poly style application I tried.
The Daydream demo was impressive enough to give me a sense of presence with its hand controller and accurate head tracking. I placed an order for a Pixel XL and Daydream headset for next day delivery.
Very neat packaging and design. The controller was incredibly performant as my tracking test below shows and gave a great feeling of hand presence despite being a 3DoF device.
At this time Daydream’s established competitor GearVR lacked the hand controller, immediately giving Google an important advantage and something leveraged by a number of developers.
Virtual Virtual Reality, Eclipse Edge of Light, Audio Factory, Dreadhalls, Rez infinite and later on Bladerunner Revelations…some standout applications and tight integration with YouTube VR, Google photos and early releases of Firefox Reality and Chrome VR gave access to WebVR experiments.
Whilst the display, remote controller and applications were effective, the headset was uncomfortable and unstable; if looking down the headset would hang forward from the face. Tightening the strap just put pressure on the facial interface without applying much stability. So I added a top strap, seen below.
The strap was later reworked to make it easier to adjust whilst wearing the headset. Facial interface pressure was still an issue due to the small size of the face gasket with a lower contact area than many headsets. Getting to work i adapted the gasket to accept an aftermarket Vive face cushion.
Facial comfort and stability were massively improved where it was possible to use Daydream for longer sessions and freely look about without the headset moving.
However, longer sessions were not really possible unless just using YouTube VR as the phone tended to quickly overheat with thermal throttling leading to shutdown. The inevitable consequence of sandwiching a smartphone in the plastic front of a fabric covered headset.
Some Daydream users had reported limited success (an improvement) using aluminium foil to siphon heat away. Others tried cooling fans with battery packs adding weight and noise. Looking for a simpler solution I removed the front panel completely….
Purchasing a Pixel XL smartphone case off Amazon, I built a passive cooling system with a finned aluminium heatsink thermally coupled to a copper coldplate which would contact the Pixel’s aluminium body. Of course adding a Daydream NFC strip borrowed from the original front panel so it would trigger Daydream mode.
Attaching this to a fabric covered VR headset was less easy, but solved with strong adhesive, industrial strength velcro and faux-leather material for the lower “wrap” whilst the elasticated top strap from Daydream was repurposed.
Testing quickly revealed a big difference in thermal performance with the Pixel now barely getting warm preventing thermal throttling. Due to reduced heat stress battery life was also markedly increased allowing me to have 2 hour sessions in games like Eclipse Edge of Light.
“Daydream Cool” was born and gave many hours of service until Google released Daydream 2017… which had a new cooling solution, top strap and improved facial interface.
2017’s biggest advantage over the original was the new Fresnel lens design which increased the field of view, clarity and sense of presence.
The only downside with moving from aspherical lenses to Fresnel lenses was the introduction of God rays (lens artifacts) which spoiled many YouTube VR applications so I kept Daydream Cool for media consumption.
Thanks for reading! Rob Cole @ immersivecomputing